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Australian Aboriginal art is the longest continuous art tradition in the world, spanning over 50,000 years. Ancestral Modernputs a modern face on the tradition, celebrating the past 40 years of contemporary indigenous art, which has experienced a renaissance since 1970. Featuring more than 100 paintings and sculptures in a variety of media, this book provides a fascinating revision of many commonly held beliefs about the art form. Aboriginal artwork is often said to induce a sense of "intellectual vertigo," due to its expansive interpretations and methods of representation. The bold patterns and striking colors lend comparisons to abstract expressionist or minimal art, but as this book shows, the imagery is more deeply narrative and often more literal than previously thought, depicting landscapes, still lifes, historical events both literal and mythic, ceremonies, portraits, and even laws. Works of art are shown alongside photographs of the actual landscapes and animals depicted, providing important visual context for understanding an art form that is at once ancient and contemporary. Also included are detailed biographies of many leading contemporary artists, including Emily Kame Kngwarreye, John Mawurndjul, and Rover Thomas.
Pamela McClusky is curator of African and Oceanic art at the Seattle Art Museum.